Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”

About fifteen years ago I was down in Toronto attending a meeting of all the members of the various national Anglican committees; I think there must have been about a hundred and fifty people there. We were together for a few days, and being good Anglicans, we had services several times a day during our meeting. One of our worship leaders was the Rev. Andrew Asbil, who was the son of Walter Asbil, the Bishop of Niagara. I’ve seen sons who looked like their dads before, but this was extraordinary; Andrew was truly the spitting image of his father. Someone said, “Now I know what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’!”

 

“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”; what an extraordinary claim! Philip comes to Jesus with a cry from the heart: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied!” (v.8). If you’re like me, your heart warms to Philip at this point. The invisibility of God is a problem to a lot of people; if only God would appear to us! We know that God is so far above us that we’d never in a million years be able to take it all in; after all, we’re talking about a being powerful enough to create the vastness of the universe and the intricacy of the human eye, a being perfectly good and holy, wise and loving, but so bright and glorious that looking at him must surely be like looking at the sun with the naked eye. But deep down in our hearts there’s a spiritual hunger, and we Christians know that only God can fill it. We spend our whole lives longing to get closer to God, to get a sense of God’s presence in our daily lives.

 

I can hear all this in Philip’s words: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied!” – or, as another translation has it, “show us the Father, and we ask no more”. We could die happy, we think, if we died with the vision of God before our eyes; surely everything else would melt into insignificance compared to that? This is what Philip is asking for, but then Jesus gives him this stunning reply: “Hello! Earth to Philip – don’t you recognize me? Have I really been with you all this time, and you haven’t figured out who I am? Well, let me spell it out for you – if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. The Father is in me, and I’m in him. The words I speak aren’t just mine, but they come from the Father. The healings and miracles and mighty works I do aren’t just because I’m some sort of superhero – they come from the Father too. That vision of God you were looking for? You’ve already had it. Look no further: it’s right here”.

 

Of course, this is never as simple as it seems. With one breath, Jesus says “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father”, but a few sentences later he’s talking about doing whatever we ask in his name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son – thus apparently making a distinction between the Father and himself. Jesus assumed he had the right to forgive people’s sins, even though only God really has that right, but he also prayed to God as his own Father. So we’re dealing with a mystery here, a mystery that the Church has attempted to explore with its doctrine of the Trinity, three persons in one God. It’s truly been said that “If you think you understand it, it’s probably not God”, so we probably shouldn’t attempt to be too precise in our definitions – after all, we’re screwing our eyes up to avoid being blinded by the brightness of God, so it’s not surprising if we can’t see too well! But let’s stick with these words of Jesus for a few minutes and explore what they mean for us: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”.

 

What is God like? What is God’s character? Is God a distant God, a God who set up the universe and left it to its own devices? Is God an uncaring God who barely notices the tiny little humans swarming around on this tiny little planet? Is God an amoral God, who really doesn’t care about our actions and has no real sense of good and bad? Is God a determinist God who sends sickness as well as health, and loves cancer cells as much as healthy human cells? Is God a stern God who stands over us with a big stick, just waiting for us to screw up so he can punish us?

 

I suspect we all find ourselves saying, “No, we don’t believe any of those ideas about God”. And yet, throughout human history, many people have believed them. We assume that our ideas about God – that he loves us, that he is passionate about us, that he forgives our sins if we ask him, that he wants to remove suffering and sickness from our lives, and one day will do so permanently – we assume that these ideas of God are self-evident, but in fact they’re not. We believe them, because we’re the beneficiaries of two thousand years of Christian teaching, based on the life and words of Jesus. We believe that Jesus has ‘shown us the Father’, and it’s ‘Like father, like son’. What is God like? Without even realizing that we’re doing it, we’re all saying, “He’s like Jesus”.

 

So, in other words, we Christians are the ones who have looked into the face of Jesus and seen God there. This is not to say that we don’t see God anywhere else – in the beauty and majesty of his creation, or in our human conscience, for instance – but we believe that we have seen God most clearly in the life and teaching of Jesus. Well then – what have we seen?

Read the rest here.

Act 1: Creation (Starting at the Beginning 2)

Link back to previous section

In the last section I talked about how we all need a story to live by, and how the story of God and God’s dealings with creation turns out to be something like a play with six acts. In this section I’ll think about the first act: Creation.

In this act, God creates the universe and everything in it, including this planet on which we live. Of course, we now have a much bigger view of what this act of creation entailed than did the author of Genesis when he wrote, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1, NIV 2011). We know about the untold millions of years during which God was slowly shaping the evolution of life on this planet, preparing it for the arrival of humankind.

But the author of Genesis knew a thing or two as well. He knew that God had created human beings ‘in his own image’, as he says in Genesis 1:27. Obviously this was not meant to suggest that we look like God physically. But in a number of important ways we do resemble God. We are creators. We have a sense of right and wrong. We can make free choices rather than being slaves of our instincts. And we have been placed on this planet as God’s representatives, to care for God’s creation and protect it from harm. This is the meaning behind the symbolic language in Genesis 2:15 where we read, ‘The Lord GOD took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it’ (NIV 2011).

In the beginning, the original human beings fulfilled their role as God intended. The story tells us that they lived in perfect harmony with each other with the universe, and with the God who had made them: ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31 NIV 2011).

Next up: Act 2: Rebellion.

The New Roots Exchange, Vol. 1

This makes me very happy!

The New Roots Exchange, Vol. I – A vinyl release of the first recorded collaboration between Red Tail Ring and Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys. Vinyl, digital download, and bonus tracks available exclusively on http://www.earthworkmusic.com.

From the Earthworks Music site:

“There’s a mystical beauty to be felt in a late night gathering of musicians. Fiddle, banjo, guitar and mandolin players seated side by side, with all eyes on the older musicians who sit knee to knee in the center of the concentric circle. Some players in the outer ring of the circle are there for the fun of it; some are using music as a therapy to mend a lost part of themselves. The reasons they are there are as diverse as the players themselves. 

There are also a few who are not shy about asking someone in the center for more information about the origin or history of a tune, who ask “please, would you play that again, a bit slower?” These are the ones who make music their life’s work, the ones whom the vehicle of Oral Tradition has chosen, to pass on these tunes and songs. 

You have in your hands the recorded work of such talented folks, each having been mentored by some older musicians who instilled in them a respect for tradition, a desire to push the envelope a bit, and the drive to pass this tradition along to others. Each started out on the outer fringe of that circular music session, each advancing toward the center as their skill and love for this music blossomed, growing older and taking their place in the embrace of this tradition. 

Turn it up! It’ll bring you to the Center.” 
– Bruce Ling, Fiddler, Hawks and Owls String Band 

The Players: 
RED TAIL RING 
Michael Beauchamp – guitar, vocals 
Laurel Premo – fiddle, vocals
LINDSAY LOU & THE FLATBELLYS 
Keith Billik – banjo
Spencer Cain – bass
Mark Lavengood – dobro 
Joshua Rilko – mandolin, vocals 
Lindsay Lou Rilko – clawhammer banjo, vocals, guitar 

For years, the musicians in Red Tail Ring and Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys have grown in music together – sharing shows, supporting each other, and always enjoying an opportunity to get together and jam. The two groups share a similar outlook on their craft – the idea that new music is richer today when it has roots in the past. This project marks the first recorded collaboration between these two Michigan-based Americana bands. 

On side A of “The New Roots Exchange, Vol. 1” the listener gets to sit in on what could be a jam session after hours at a festival. Two traditional numbers are performed live in studio by all of the members of both groups. Side B features a musical trade, with re-imaginings from both bands of one another’s songwriting.

Pick up the album or the digital tracks here.

Starting at the Beginning 1: Finding a Story to Live By

Cartoons can tell you a lot about the way people look at the world, including how they feel about God. A friend of mine once had a cartoon in his office with a picture of God sitting at a computer. On the monitor was an image of a man about to walk under a ladder; on the ladder a couple of other men were trying to get a piano through an upstairs window. As the man approached the ladder, God’s finger was hovering over a button on the keyboard marked ‘Smite!’

I also remember the BC comic strip by Johnny Hart, in which one of the characters looks up to heaven and cries out, “O God, send me a sign!” In the next frame a lightning bolt comes down from heaven and strikes him with an enormous “ZOT!” In the final frame, the charred and blackened figure looks out from the cartoon strip and comments, “God’s got electric signs!”

We should not assume that when different people use the word ‘god’ they are all talking about the same thing. A university chaplain told how students would often come into his office and loudly proclaim that they didn’t believe in God. His response was invariably, “Tell me which god you don’t believe in; I probably don’t believe in that god either”.

Over the next few weeks I want to say some things about the god Christians believe in. Yes, there’s only one god (that is one of the beliefs Christians have about God), so technically all monotheists (those who believe there is only one god) believe in the same god. But we don’t all believe the same things about our god, and it’s naive to say that this is unimportant. For instance, I think it makes a huge difference whether you believe that your god is pleased with you when you commit mass murder in his name, or whether you believe that he wants you to love your enemies and pray for those who hate you. So if we believe in God, it matters what we think God is like. In fact, it will change the way we live our lives.

Christians, like their Jewish ancestors in the faith, have always answered questions about their god by telling a story. If you had asked an Israelite in the 8th century B.C., “Which god do you believe in?” the response would probably have been something like, “The god who brought us out of Egypt (and by the way, he told us his name is Yahweh)”. And if you had asked a Christian in the first century AD the same question, the response might well have been, “The god who raised Jesus from the dead”. Both answers, you see, tell stories about what God has done. Christianity, like Judaism, is a narrative faith.

The stories these people used to answer the question not only told them about their god; they also told them about themselves, and their place in the world. Sooner or later, all of us look for a story that tells us how we fit in. We want a story that will help us find answers to questions like, “Why am I here?” “What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” “How do I know what is right and what is wrong?” and “How is it all going to end?” I have heard these questions described as “God-shaped questions”, because Christians believe there is absolutely no way of answering them adequately without including God in our answer. The story that helps us find answers to these questions turns out to be the story of God and God’s dealings with creation. This story, in its Christian version, turns out to be something like a play with six acts…

Next Up: Act 1: Creation

Blair Dunlop plays Canadee-i-o

Those who know Nic Jones’ magisterial version of this song from ‘Penguin Eggs’ will know that Blair is following Nic’s accompaniment for the most part, but he gives a few little twists to make it his own, and of course he has the energy of youth as well. I think this is an excellent performance. I am not aware that Blair has recorded this song.

Blair’s website is here.

The Good Shepherd

I may have mentioned to you a few times that I’ve always been a big fan of the Robin Hood stories. As many of you will know, Robin Hood is a legendary figure who is said to have lived in the late twelfth century in England, during the time of the Crusades. King Richard the Lion Heart was away leading a crusading army, and his brother Prince John was ruling the kingdom on his behalf. In the most popular versions of the Robin Hood stories, Prince John is seen as a self-serving tyrant who is taxing the people to death. Robin and his band of merrie men live in the Nottingham area and often confront Prince John’s local representative, the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin and his men have been driven into the outlaw life, and they spend their time robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, in anticipation of the day when King Richard will return, do away with the corruption in the land, and put everything to rights again.

So, at least, goes the legend. However, historians know that this is a very romantic view of King Richard the Lionheart; he actually seems to have cared very little for the people of England, except as a tax base to support his very expensive foreign crusades. He was king for ten years but spent only a few months of that time in England; the rest of it was spent in the Holy Land or in journeys there and back, including a time when he was kept prisoner in France and his people were taxed to raise an enormous ransom to set him free. If the Robin Hood stories are true and the people were putting their hope in Richard to put things to rights in England, then they were disappointed; it turned out that it was in Richard’s name that Prince John and the Sheriff were doing all this taxing in the first place! Like many political leaders, Richard turned out to be a disappointment – a self-serving adventurer who did not have the true welfare of his people at heart.

Now, you might ask, what does the story of Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart have to do with John chapter 10 and the idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd? Here’s your answer: in biblical times the image of the shepherd was predominantly a royal image; the kings and leaders of ancient Israel were thought of as shepherds of God’s people. This idea was associated from ancient times with king David, who in his youth had been a shepherd boy, and who God chose to be the ‘shepherd’ of his people Israel. This idea is expressed at the end of Psalm 78 in these words:

‘(God) chose his servant David,
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from tending the nursing ewes he brought him
to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
of Israel, his inheritance.
With upright heart he tended them,
and guided them with skillful hand’ (Psalm 78:70-72).

Later on, in Ezekiel chapter 34, the prophet delivers a thundering judgement against the corrupt kings of Israel:

‘Thus says the LORD God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals’ (34:2b-5).

This is the background to what Jesus has to say in John chapter 10. To claim to be ‘the Good Shepherd’ – not just ‘a’ good shepherd but ‘the’ Good Shepherd – is to claim to be a better king than the self-serving political and religious leaders who, as Ezekiel had said, were exploiting the people of God instead of caring for them. Jesus was making a political claim here: this is a claim to be the true King of Israel, the Messiah, who would care for the people of God as their great king David had cared for them. And yet, as he always does, Jesus subtly changes the definition of kingship here, so that it becomes more an issue of what we have come to call ‘pastoral care’ – ‘pastor’ is the Latin word for ‘shepherd’ – than political power.

Read the rest here.

Verses for the day: John 5:36-40

Jesus said: “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish – the very works that I am doing – testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life”.

Lord God, ever since I became a Christian I have loved the Scriptures. You know that when I was still in my mid-teens my parents gave me a copy of ‘The Living Bible’, and I read it through from cover to cover: it was so easy to read, and the words seemed to jump out from the page and apply themselves to my life! Ever since then I have read the Bible daily, and I have read it through in several different translations. And still, all these years later, it doesn’t disappoint me. Whether it’s a heartfelt cry for help in a psalm, or a gritty story of sinful humanity in the books of Samuel and Kings, or a scorching call for repentance from the prophets, or a word of life from Jesus or his apostles – I always find nourishment for my journey in the pages of the Scriptures.

But help me, Lord God, not to forget these words of Jesus. It would be a tragedy to read a book about marriage instead of enjoying a marriage, and it would be a tragedy for me to read and study about the life you give us without coming to you to enjoy that life. So help me to come to you, Lord Jesus, as the one about whom the Scriptures testify. Help me to see how you are the goal that the story of the Scriptures is leading toward – how you are the brightest light of revelation in the whole library of Scripture, and how you illuminate and interpret everything else in the light of God’s perfect love and holiness. Use this book to draw me closer to you, O God, and may it be a lamp to my feet and a lantern on my path as I journey with Jesus each day. Amen.